Elizabethan Poor Laws

341 words | 2 page(s)

The poor laws passed around the turn of the 17th century have had a major impact on American policy. In the beginning, these laws were passed with the idea that society had a moral responsibility to take care of people who were in danger. The idea behind these laws, especially in the beginning, was to ensure that people had medicine, food, shelter, and other important necessities when they were in trouble. Over time, these laws became more liberal, providing more and more for people, until the time came when society pushed back. Later “poor laws” made it more difficult for the poor to get what they needed, and beyond that, they established the societal ideal that being able bodied and poor was a moral failing rather than just being an economic condition. Both of these concepts have had an impact on the policies for the poor today.

There is an element of American society, which was largely developed with the New Deal, that suggests that there is a responsibility to take good care of people. Roosevelt and the New Deal Democrats sought to install a societal understanding that all people have a strong duty to take care of those around them. However, the United States has begun to embrace more of the “moral” philosophy of poverty recently. Along with the Prosperity Doctrine of Christianity, there has become a sense that people are poor because there is something wrong with them. This has caused the roll back of more of the policies that help the poor. Lately poor people have been treated in a NIMBY fashion, which suggests that the problem should be dealt with by shipping poor people to someone else’s neighborhood. Social workers have an ethical responsibility to ensure that people are given the accommodations they need to survive, among other things. They have a responsibility to resist laws that are brutal toward people who are struggling.

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  • Hindle, S. (2014). Poverty and the poor laws. The Elizabethan World, 301.
  • Nicholls, G. (2016). A history of the English poor law (Vol. 3). Routledge.

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